Cholesterol and Triglycerides – What Everyone Needs to Know About the Building Blocks of Cholesterol

Triglycerides are the “fats” in the blood we all see on our lab results but our doctors don’t usually don’t do anything about. And because doctors don’t always consider the relationship between cholesterol and triglycerides in lab measurements, good control over your triglycerides can lead to the appearance of poor cholesterol over your LDL cholesterol, even if you are really making progress in your health.

What are triglycerides? Fats don’t dissolve in water. The bloodstream is mostly water. To transport fatty acids through the bloodstream, they first have to be converted into triglycerides. The body can also make triglycerides out of sugars.

Whenever we eat any fat, or too much sugar, or both, the body makes triglycerides. Fats from foods are converted into triglycerides by cells in the lining of the intestine called enterocytes. Excess sugars are converted into triglycerides in the liver or in fat cells.

Triglycerides are used to store energy the body does not need to use right away. They are also used to make a kind of “big and fluffy” cholesterol called very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as LDL.

The relationship between insulin and triglycerides. Insulin moves sugar into cells. Insulin also moves triglycerides into cells. If you eat a lot of sugar at the same time you eat a lot of fat, insulin will move triglycerides into fat cells far more efficiently than it will move sugar into fat cells. After all, putting sugar in fat cells just gives them more work to do, and fat cells, in this case, are “lazy.”

If you are diabetic or prediabetic, your blood sugars will always go up faster if you eat carbs with fat. If you are not diabetic or prediabetic, then your body probably makes enough insulin fast enough to handle both sugars and fats.

The formation of triglycerides explains why fat-free foods can make you fat. Food manufacturers have to put something to replace the fat to give you the same size product and a good mouth feel, and that something is usually sugar. Too much sugar also winds up as triglycerides in your fat cells, or in your bloodstream, if you don’t have enough insulin in your body.

The relationship between cholesterol and triglycerides. Most people reading this article will have, at some time in their lives, done exercise to lose weight. Have you ever wondered how working your arms and legs could reduce the fat around your waist? After all, the fat has to get off your belly to be burned somehow.

The way the body gets the energy from stored fat where it needs to go is through a form of cholesterol known as VLDL, or very low-density lipoprotein. Since fat can’t travel through the watery bloodstream unless it is attached to something soluble, the liver recycles the lipoproteins used to transport LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol or HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol to make VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, attaching triglycerides to the lipoproteins. Your liver can also use other kinds of cholesterol to make VLDL.

This means that if you eat a lot of fat, your body can make a lot of VLDL, or if you eat a lot of sugar, your body can make a lot of VLDL cholesterol. Also, if you work out a lot, your body will burn off VLDL. Your other cholesterol levels can go up and down not just in response to how much cholesterol you get from your food, but also in response to how of other kinds of fat you eat, and how much sugar you eat, and whether you exercise. All of this is very important in understanding cholesterol blood tests.